Interview by Ambassador Pyatt on July 4th with Nikolas Vafiadis, Antenna TV
(filmed June 30, 2021)
Lycabettus Hill, Athens
Mr. Vafiadis: Mr. Ambassador, as we celebrate 200 years of friendship, what have been the highlights of this year, where are we now in American-Greek relations and what are the prospects for next year?
Ambassador Pyatt: Thank you, Niko, for the question. It’s great to have this annual interview. This is our fifth time we have done this. I think this is probably the most spectacular setting we have had for any of these talks, and it was a special honor to be here on the occasion of the bicentenary of Greece, which is so important to your country as a sign of Greece’s progress, but also made because of the very deep ties between our two revolutions in the United States. I had a lot of fun last year and it was an absolute highlight to travel through the country to see the stories that show how Americans in our young country were inspired by the example of the Greek freedom fighters, but also by it Walk around the Agora with President Sakellaropoulou and be reminded of how Athenian democracy was the inspiration for our own democratic experiment 245 years ago.
So for me it was fantastic. Apparently, on January 20th, we had a very important political transition in the United States. I am incredibly proud, as far as I know, to be the only ambassador in the history of American-Greek relations to serve under three presidents. And I am also very proud to say that under each of these presidents we have seen steady growth in the depth and breadth of our relationships. You know how committed President Biden is to US-Greece relations. He spoke about it very personally in his address to the Greek people on your 200th birthday in March. And I know we have big plans for the future.
Mr. Vafiadis: What are the Biden government’s priorities towards Greece?
Ambassador Pyatt: TThe Biden government’s top priority is to defeat the pandemic and to work with all of our international partners to put the world back on track for sustainable economic growth. We are very happy that the philosophy and priorities of President Biden and Prime Minister Mitsotakis and his government are so closely aligned. It is also fantastic for me and all of us working on these topics that one of the true heroes of the pandemic story worldwide, but especially in the United States, is a proud son of Thessaloniki, Albert Bourla. And I remember very early on in President Biden’s administration when he emphasized the massive ramp-up in vaccine production so much that he traveled with Albert to the Pfizer manufacturing facility to thank the workers there. And you saw that just two weeks ago, when President Biden announced the start of the United States’ worldwide campaign for the distribution of vaccines, it is no coincidence that, on that occasion, probably the most famous Greek-American today, besides Ginnis Antetokounmpo, Albert., Bourla was there.
It fits very well there. In terms of our broad agenda and all of the priorities we have developed through strategic dialogue over the past few years – defense cooperation, clean energy cooperation, trade and investment, security, our relationships between people – all of that is going on.
Another new point that was a very high priority for President Biden is the global climate crisis. We’re seeing record temperatures in the Pacific Northwest – Oregon and Washington State and British Columbia in Canada. 45 degrees in a region where the normal temperature in summer is in the high 20s. This is a wake-up call to all of us, and President Biden and his climate officer, former Secretary of State John Kerry, have made it clear that we must all work together and work harder. And of course, this fits perfectly with the priority Prime Minister Mitsotakis has set in his very brave decision to accelerate the phase-out of coal-fired power in Greece and aggressively promote new, cleaner technologies, many of which are being implemented in partnership with American companies.
So we are currently in a very good position as far as our joint efforts are concerned.
Mr. Vafiadis: You mentioned the pandemic. It slowed the world economy, it delayed some of the energy projects. How has this affected exploration southwest of Crete and other joint energy projects? And what about American investments in Greece?
Ambassador Pyatt: I don’t think we missed a blow. First of all, you can see that American interest in this area is unbroken. We continue to have our 3 + 1 cooperation with Greece, Israel and Cyprus on energy issues. In fact, in the next few days we will have a meeting of our energy working group as part of the strategic dialogue. That is why we continue to work together on these issues.
The Prime Minister’s decision to phase out lignite will even expand the scope for our joint work on clean LNG. Greece is consuming more LNG this year than ever before. And that will accelerate with the further phase-out of lignite. Meanwhile, progress on the Alexandroupoli FSRU, the IGB pipeline in Bulgaria, the gas pipeline link with North Macedonia, which we believe will merge in the next few days, has continued.
So we do a lot together.
I think especially with regard to the energy picture of the Eastern Mediterranean, one of the things that will change the equation more than the pandemic will be the accelerated focus on climate change, which will require an even faster transition to sustainable options like wind and solar. Geothermal energy that Greece has in abundance. And I think it will put a premium on the countries that have identified reserves. The example of the Aphrodite deal, for example, before Israel. Israel has an incentive to get this gas out of the ground and into the markets as quickly as possible. Greece is the logical place for this gas to enter European markets.
Finally, I would just like to say that everything that is happening in conjunction with the very high gas demand in Europe is a very restrictive policy by Russia. It is worrying that many gas reserves in Europe are currently not as full as they need before winter comes again and Russia is manipulating the gas to meet its political goals. It is therefore of vital importance to create the faculty that Greece offers through Revithoussa, through the ITUC in Alexandroupoli.
Mr. Vafiadis: It has been a good year on the military cooperation front between the United States and Greece. What are the prospects?
Ambassador Pyatt: The Best year ever. Greece is one of our strongest partners in NATO today, and I am incredibly proud of the partnerships we have forged with the Greek Ministry of Defense and the Greek Armed Forces in all areas – be it during our air exercises in Iniochos, what our navies are doing together, when the carrier groups come through the eastern Mediterranean, which our special forces do together. You and I had the opportunity the other day to be in Megara and see the fantastic progress of the new Greek multi-armed multi-service special forces.
That is why we are expanding our cooperation. At the same time, we are opening up new business areas. Our presence in Alexandroupoli – Alexandroupoli has been extremely busy this year. Another big ship is there right now. Railroad cars that take out some of the European armed forces and load them onto ships for return to the United States. And very soon we will start the deployment of the fighter brigades that are coming to Greece for their winter rotation back in Stefanovikeio. We are very busy in Alexandroupoli. Our exercises, which we have already carried out very successfully, are up in Xanthi, in Thrace. We are continuing our rotations through Stefanovikeio and it is important that these exercises took place in a very complex environment this year even during the pandemic.
So we’re doing a lot, but we have a big agenda for the months ahead. Over the past few days I have spoken to both Minister Dendias and Minister Panagiotopoulos about our joint commitment to broadening and deepening our mutual defense cooperation agreement, our MDCA. I am very confident that this will happen because the political decision has already been made on both sides. And now we also have this fantastic initiative from Senator Menendez and Senator Rubio for a new addition to the East Med Act that specifically focuses on deepening our defense ties with Greece and provides a legislative mandate for the Pentagon, State Department and White House have made. Strong support from the house too. It will continue like this.
I am very, very confident of where we stand in our defensive relationship. And this cooperation is more important today than ever because we are so focused on realizing our common interests, be it in the Eastern Mediterranean, the Western Balkans or beyond.
Mr. Vafiadis: How do you assess the dialogue between Greece and Turkey from an American point of view? And how is it changing the geopolitical environment?
Ambassador Pyatt: F.From the American point of view, we primarily support the initiatives of Prime Minister Mitsotakis. We share his goal of reducing tension, ensuring that all parties in the region act within the framework of international law and avoid provocative escalation steps.